Production IG was founded on December 15, 1987, by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa. They are one of the more famous and celebrated Japanese animation companies. They are known for doing outstanding cinematic productions as well as continuing the less glamorous work of subcontracted work in spite of their recent successes.
Production IG has a very strong international strategy, resulting in the establishment of an American division, Production I.G. LLC. in 1997. The American company is headed by Mitsuhisa Ishikawa as is the parent Japanese one. Currently, the American division serves primarily as an antenna to the American anime culture, and providing presence at conventions. Combined with a strong relationship with Manga Entertainment, this is credited for giving Production IG and its works a strong international presence and appeal.
Known primarily for its feature length animated films, the company also handles a number of other ventures; Direct to video features, video game animated cut-scenes, video game design and development, as well as music publishing and management.
Initially founded as "IG Tatsunoko Limited" in 1987, it was a break-off studio of the larger, and then much more well known Tatsunoko Productions. Originally consisted of the keyframe studio "鐘夢(chime)" and members of the Tatsunoko Production Studio annex.
The earlier history of Production IG shows only a hint of things to come, populated mostly with subcontracted work for unspectacular films of varying degrees of success. The company's big break was in the form of the feature length cinematic anime adaptation of the "Patlabor" story, created by the group HEADGEAR. Given that at the time, the company had only existed for little over a year and consisted of five employees with a staff of freelance animators, it was a large gamble. This paid off in the unveiling of the film in 1989, placing the young company on the credits of a very high quality production, as well as forging the basis of the relationship with director Mamoru Oshii.
In 1993, during the final stages of the production of "Patlabor 2" the company changed its name to the current "Production I.G.". The movie "Patlabor 2" is the last product bearing the name "IG Tatsunoko". Of the various theories explaining the name change, avoiding confusion with the larger company which they broke off from seems to be the most agreed upon.
In 1998, the company incorporated to become "Production IG, Inc." Following that, Production IG merged with "ING", another production company founded by the same Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, in 2000.
While the company has a long and uncelebrated history as a subcontractor which cements their position within the industry, they are still best known domestically and abroad for their high quality feature length animated films. The animated film Ghost in the Shell released in 1995 gained them their first international publicity. This paved the way for increased acceptance of Japanese animation abroad, popularizing the earlier Mamoru Oshii directed works, Patlabor and its sequel Patlabor 2.
In 2000, they produced titles such as Jin-roh, FLCL, and Blood the last Vampire. In 2003, the television adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell story, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex found a strong reception, and 2004 showed the latest Mamoru Oshii project entitled Innocence, a sequel to the earlier Ghost in the Shell film.
Inroads into Hollywood have been made by the company in the form of visual homages from the highly successful Sci-Fi film directed by the Wachowski brothers, The Matrix, and by creating the animated sequence in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill vol. 1. In 2003, Production I.G. collaborated with Cartoon Network in producing a 25 minute (five episodes of five minutes each) "micro-series" IGPX Immortal Grand Prix.
Production IG is one of the forerunners of digital animation techniques. While not exclusive in their usage of computer technology, they are given praise for their advances in digital compositing, digital effects, digital image/story boarding, and digital colorgrading.
The film "Ghost in the Shell" marked the first ever overlay of computer generated visuals onto a hand drawn background. Surprisingly, many of the digital looking effects in the film were laboriously hand produced.
Production IG's advances in digital cinematography techniques have been credited in no small part to Effects Director Hisashi Ezura (江面 久), Director Hiroyuki Kitakubo (北久保 弘之), Animator Norifumi Kiyozumi (清積 紀文) and Toshihiro Kawamoto (川元 利浩) who joined Production I.G. in the spring of 1996. Their first application of digital techniques was presented in the animated cut sequences for the Sony PlayStation game, "Ghost in the Shell".
The first feature length animated film to use this digital manipulation by Production IG was "Blood: the Last Vampire" released in 2000. This found the comprehensive usage of digital technology in a largely seamless manner. From this production onward, digital effects were used in almost every one of their projects including "Sakura Taisen: the movie", "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex", "Minipato", and "Innocence".
Traditional compositing had physical limitations on the number of layers being placed into the final film. Care was also needed in making the individual layers be compatible with each other, so that one would not conflict with another.
With the advance of digital compositing, the discrete layers could be edited in groups, and lighting effects could be applied to the entire frame, or to each layer selectively. This greatly helped the production of Hayao Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke" by creating a depth of field previously unseen in an animated feature. In "Blood: the Last Vampire", this also contributed into having a deep, and hitherto unseen active background supporting the foreground characters.
More recently, further development and experimentation has allowed for the seamless addition of computer generated images, objects and characters into a traditional hand-drawn scene. For example, the Tachikoma Think-Tanks of "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex" are 3-D computer models composited into the scene. This has allowed for repeated mechanical objects to be unified in appearance.
The storyboard is not an aspect of production that finds its way into the finished product. The production process of an anime traditionally breaks the larger whole into smaller sections handled by specific key-frame animators. This allowed for specific artists to show their individual talents, but also created some discontinuity in style.
Production I.G has created a position called the "Screen Architect" who builds the atmosphere and feel of a scene. This is accomplished by creating a storyboard which has the same effects as the finished product applied to it. Prior to digital image manipulation, the application of effects such as lighting, blurs and shadows was done manually and consumed much time.
This allowed the production crews to visualize and unify the visual feel of a film. Combined with digital compositing, this further strengthened the power of post production editing and allowed for fine-tuning of the final product's visual presentation.
Colorgrading is a fine-tuning post-production process which controls the colors presented in a scene. Animation differs from live-action filming in its ability to choose the colors that the cels are being painted in. This allows for a much more controlled visual environment. This advantage is however lost in the lack of control after the color is painted on the cel.
Digital colorgrading allows for multiple layers to be edited at once, and was used in "Blood: the Last Vampire" to build a very specific unified color palette. Within the limited color palette, specific colors were enhanced to draw the attention of the viewer in a way difficult to paint in the cel.
The subtle nature of the manipulation is the power of colorgrading, as it contributes to the scene without being noticed. It continues to be used in Production IG's films without being overtly noticed.
Digital Special Effects
Production IG is known for creating analog effects digitally. For traditional hand-drawn animation, often analog effects easily created on film are difficult to reproduce.
The less obvious digital contributions into an analog scene include lens effects such as the fish-eye lens, motion blur to more vividly portray movement, instability in the focus of the camera, unstable light exposure, lighting effects such as shadows, and gun muzzle flashes.
- Official Website (English) (http://www.productionig.com/)
- Official Website (Japanese) (http://www.production-ig.co.jp)